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SA chef cooking up a storm for Saudi royals

Published Aug 22, 2021


CAPE TOWN – A South African chef is making waves as the head chef of a restaurant owned by the Saudi royal family.

Leroy Halford, 34, started in the food and beverage industry as a commis (junior) chef working under a section chef.

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Halford, who graduated in 2005 from Grassdale High School in Grassy Park, Cape Town, went straight from the classroom to work at the popular Balducci restaurant in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. This is where he learnt the ropes under the guidance of executive head chef Fernando Roman, and ended up working there for about three years.

He then went on to seek international experience and broaden his culinary horizons and joined Celebrity Cruises, a cruise line with its headquarters in Miami, Florida, where he worked for a year.

Halford returned to Africa and looked for opportunities in South Africa. Barely a week off the ships, he reached out to his mentor, head chef Roman, and that’s when he joined the team at Pepenero restaurant in Mouille Point in June 2009. He spent four years there as a junior sous chef.

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During that time, he opened the Bungalow restaurant on Clifton’s fourth beach in 2012/13 as senior sous chef.

At one point, Halford managed a staff complement of about 55 as an executive head chef, where he remained for a couple of years.

Halford worked at Quay Four restaurant for a couple of years, before deciding to return to the cruise ships in February 2018, until around June 2018.

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Halford was once again head-hunted for his skills by the three sisters of the Saudi Al Saud royal family, who asked him to head their new restaurant, Buttermilk, in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh, where he currently works as the head chef.

“I worked my way up the ladder. I know the industry. I know the ins and outs,” said Halford. “I’ve led big kitchen brigades and moulded countless chefs during my career so far.

“Every restaurant I’ve worked at, I’ve always stayed for a long period, because I wanted to complete my goal for myself, as well as for my team at the restaurant.”

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Halford added that before he joined a restaurant, he set himself goals to achieve at said restaurant, which he said was very important in this industry.

He said he has paid his dues in the industry, but it wasn’t an easy journey.

“I come from a hard-working family, all of them come from sales. I became a chef because of my mother; she’s my inspiration.”

Halford recounted how his mom would take humble and ordinary ingredients and make big meals for her family.

“Every bite, I felt the love and care was in every meal for us as kids,” he said.

“I became a chef because I wanted to put smiles on other people’s faces.”

Cape Town chef Leroy Halford, 34. Video: Supplied.

Halford, who said he went to Square Hill Primary School, as well as Steenberg High School, finished his schooling career at Grassdale, because they offered travel and tourism, as well as hospitality, and that was when he knew that this was what he wanted to do for a living for the rest of his life.

“My mother was my motivation and always will be. My parents didn’t have all the money in the world to send me to the best culinary schools, but I realised that this was my calling and passion.

“I have a 9-year old son, who also inspires me daily. Yes, it’s difficult and hard being away from my family on special occasions, but these are all sacrifices that I’m making not just for my future, but for my son’s future as well.

“I work this hard far away from home to instil into other young people from Steenberg and the Cape Flats that it is possible to make something out of your life when you work hard, but also to inspire them as well.

“Not all generations of cooks come from Camps Bay or Constantia where they have the opportunities to go to the best culinary schools.

“There are great up-and-coming chefs from the Cape Flats – it doesn’t matter where you come from – that also wants their imprint on the industry,” said Halford.

“I understand that it’s hard working away from home, but you will reap the rewards. All you need to have is the grit and the determination to stick it out in the beginning of your career and say ‘yes sir’, ‘yes ma’am’, so that one day they will be calling you chef.”

| African News Agency (ANA)

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